How to create a bird-friendly garden

Living Well | Jane Canaway | Posted on 15 May 2019

Birds will be flocking to your backyard with our guide to feather-friendly gardens.

Victoria is home to more than 450 species of birds including parrots, waterfowl, birds of prey and songbirds. Many of our parks and gardens have thriving bird communities but for the past few decades, some bird species found in cities and suburbs have been struggling to flourish.

Close up of parrot on grass in garden

“The birds that are doing better tend to be the larger native or introduced birds that are bigger, more aggressive and that eat lots of different things. Some smaller native birds are becoming less common because living with people is not easy,” says Dr Holly Parsons, urban birds program manager at BirdLife Australia.

Some of those birds are finding it harder to thrive because of the increasing urbanisation of cities and towns and the loss of natural habitat. Smaller residential blocks are also being planted with easy-to-maintain plants that may not offer a refuge or food, particularly for smaller birds.

“We’ve seen a trend towards larger houses and smaller blocks, and bigger blocks are being infilled with multiple-occupancy homes,” says Holly.

“Garden styles are also being simplified and the dense shrubby vegetation that birds like isn’t planted as much because people want simple, low-lying plants,” says Holly. 

But it doesn’t take much effort to create a bird-friendly garden. 

House with timber balustrade and leafy green tree out front

Dense bushes are a surefire way to get all the birds.  

Red parrot sitting on wire fence

Ripping up your bushes is a cardinal bird lover's sin.

Colourful parrot and cockatoos sitting on fence

Don't put out bird feed more than a couple of times a week.


Five tips for cultivating a bird-friendly garden

1. Provide cover

Make space for some dense shrubby cover. “You don’t have to plant shrubs everywhere but make some space for that kind of vegetation,” says Holly. “Local councils are a good resource and can suggest a native plant list, so you know what will grow well in your area.” Local councils may also have community nurseries where you can buy local native plants. 

2. Don't shrub off your existing plants

Don’t pull up existing bushes and shrubs that you don’t like until new shrubs and bushes have grown. “If you have an old camellia bush in the back yard, it could still provide habitat for birds. Don’t wipe everything out of the garden because you may displace birds that are already living there,” says Holly. 

3. Cluster plants together

Plant new shrubs and plants in clumps – so group a few of the same species together to create thicker shelter for birds. Remember to trim and prune to maintain density.

4. Know your nectar

Nectar-rich plants, like bottle brush or grevillea, attract some of the bigger ‘bully’ birds like rainbow lorikeets and noisy mynas but smaller flowering plants are a better source of nectar for smaller birds, says Holly. 

5. Practise intermittent feeding

Don’t put out food for birds every day – do it a couple of times a week. Avoid bread and honey and water and, instead, put out small seeds or nectar mix that can be bought from pet supply stores.